Silent Light (2007, Carlos Reygadas)

Deliberately-paced movie that aims hard for transcendence, opening and closing with real-time sunrise/sunset scenes (beautiful, with a Last Days-paced creeping camera). Jay Kuehner in Cinema Scope: “It’s a staggering shot, marked not only by duration but by the howling of unseen animals, a collective primal roar that disturbs the scene’s serenity.”

I wish the person introducing at the High hadn’t named the film’s greatest influence (Ordet) because then I spent those long, slow shots (but not static shots – one memorable spinning scene tracks Johan’s truck driving in circles) wondering when someone would die and be resurrected. That would be sad Johan’s even-sadder wife Esther, who dies of a broken heart during a rainstorm. I was surprised that it’s Johan’s affair Marianne who touches Esther and summons her back to life.

Jay Kuehner:

However Silent Light eschews the kinetics of narrative, it is by conception not without dramatic stakes. Johan’s tear-streaked face communicates a sense of pain only in the knowledge that his newfound love could harn his wife and alienate his family, consequences which Reygadas leaves unexplored. Is this a result of the director’s immanent design? If so, it’s teasingly realized in a gorgeous sequence featuring Johan and family bathing in a natural pool, the camera adhering to the children’s simple gestures as if nothing more important existed to them outside the moment – and likewise to the film outside the frame. It’s a scene of self-succifiency that produces meaning only in context with others, which bestow upon its small familial utopia a threat of impending loss. That’s enough to make a grown man cry.

El Sicario Room 164 (2010, Gianfranco Rosi)

Similar to Collapse, in that both are documentaries set in a room where a single subject is speaking to the camera, and both are completely terrifying. Collapse left me aimlessly afraid of the end of the world, this one offers a clear action item: Never go to Mexico.

A former “sicario” (drug cartel enforcer) who has escaped with his family tells about his youth (driving cars full of drugs over the border before he was even old enough to drive), training (at the police academy, where 25% of graduates are already working for the cartels) and 20-year career as a kidnapper, torturer and murderer at the behest of an unworthy man, as the now church-going ex-sicario realizes. The drug business basically runs the government, police, and even military, if this guy is to be believed. Never go to Mexico.

M. Peranson:

More so than Police, Adjective, the film that came to mind when watching El Sicario is the still relevant Chambre 666, wherein Wim Wenders set up a stationary camera in Room 666 of the Hotel Martinez during the 1982 Cannes film festival and asked filmmakers like Godard, Fassbinder, Herzog and Spielberg the question: “Is cinema a language about to get lost, an art about to die?” It’s no coincidence that the directors are framed, like the sicario often is, next to a television set.

Whores’ Glory (2011, Michael Glawogger)

Right after I read about his trilogy, a Glawogger film opens in my neighborhood, so the wife and I went on a date to see his whore movie. There are interviews with the participants, but mostly it’s an immersive thing, you figure out how the whoring works in each region by fly-on-the-walling it. But M.G.’s great innovation is to produce a verite/interview doc with killer camerawork and sound design. You sometimes get curious framing or a decent music score in a doc, but usually the serious documentarian’s stylistic presence is felt through editing. Not anymore, as the weird vibes of CocoRosie swirl through a surprisingly elegant movie about prostitutes in increasingly desperate conditions.

First Thailand: the girls have home lives and ideas about what they’d like to do post-prostitution. Their brothel advertises, accepts credit cards and employs a woman who acts like a den mother. Then Bangladesh, a sharp step down in living conditions, as kids are sold to live and work in a complex they’ll never afford to leave. Finally Mexico, where it’s every girl for herself, with no supervision, a desperate, dangerous-seeming atmosphere, and enough of a who-gives-a-fuck attitude that the filmmaker is allowed inside to watch some whoring in action: sadness for everyone involved.

Katy and I discussed the movie for like ninety minutes, but that was a month ago, so I cannot provide a summary.

C. Huber in Cinema Scope:

Thriving on contradiction and observational curiosity as usual, Glawogger still resolutely rejects social cause-pandering, but scratches for something deeper by contrasting the rituals of love (for sale) in three different cultures, religions and economies: a look not just at prostitution, but the relationships between men and women in contemporary society that yields telling and ambivalent insights.

Mansion of Madness (1973, Juan Lopez Moctezuma)

White-hatted Gaston is visiting Dr. Maillard’s psychiatric hospital when they’re met at the gate by a loony-acting guard, and I suddenly realized this was based on the same Poe story as Svankmajer’s Sileni, and is going to suffer in comparison. Gaston is welcomed into the asylum, led by the swirly-robed man on the DVD cover, while his red-hatted friend (Martin LaSalle, star of Pickpocket) is attacked in the woods and his woman raped. It just isn’t a bad 1970’s movie unless a woman gets raped.

The guy from the DVD cover:

The girl from Alucarda’s DVD cover – what’s she doing here?

The movie’s in English, which the actors are having trouble getting used to – some words are pronounced differently each time they’re spoken. Gaston’s straight Rod Serling line delivery conflicts badly with Maillard’s strangely-accented rapid-fire drama. It wants to look like Vadim’s Spirits of the Dead segment with the careful posing of actors and scenery before the camera. One of those euro-art films, but from Mexico. Moctezuma also made the Satan-in-a-convent movie Alucarda, which I saw but can’t much remember.

White hat and red hat:

Lunacy:

This one is more masculine than Sileni, less interested in the daughter/prisoner character Eugenie than in Gaston and Maillard (Claudio Brook – Simon of the Desert himself), but really it doesn’t seem too interested in any of them. There are some half-hearted pursuits and mysteries, and even the tarred/feathered “real doctors” in the basement scenes have little explanation (and nothing like the terribly doomed finale of Svankmajer’s version). The “hero” never does a thing; the prisoners escape on their own. It’s a series of crazy scenes, signifying nothing.

Claudio having an epic shout:

Eugenie’s revenge:

Symbol (2009, Hitoshi Matsumoto)

This was everything I hoped it’d be when I heard the vague plot outline. Japanese man wearing loud pajamas wakes up in an all-white room covered in switches. Whenever he presses a switch, something new appears in the room. Meanwhile a Mexican wrestler named Escargot Man prepares for a match. How will these two stories come together?

It gets weirder, of course. The switches are angel penises. The man gets a ton of useless stuff, plus sushi (but no soy sauce). He’s somewhat frustrating to my organized mind because he doesn’t try every switch or hit them in any organized manner. But the stakes are raised when he finds a floor switch that opens a door out of the room – just for a few seconds.

Maybe my favorite part: he has a large pot, and unlimited sushi, so he fills the pot with sushi to weigh down the switch. But it’s too full to lift. So he laboriously starts pulling bits of sushi back out of the pot with chopsticks, when he hits a button that causes an African man to jog into the pot, breaking it in half.

More intricate escape attempts. He finds the exit door has a combination lock (the combo is written on the African man’s head) and a key lock. The key appears on a timer, as does a rope from the sky, so there’s a plan involving swinging and grabbing and running. The man doesn’t talk out his ideas – instead we get wonderful comic-book montages as he envisions what he’s going to do next.

But sometimes he hits the wrong switch and this happens.

Plan is carried out, but he’s stuck. The door is unlocked, without enough room to open, and he can’t get back into the main room. Passage of time marked by red sushi turning brown. He finds a sliding panel and a new room of switches – this time when he hits them, things happen in the world outside that he’s not aware of. Frustrated, he flicks one switch over and over – one that causes the Mexican wrestler’s neck to extend and deliver a knockout headbutt to whoever’s closest.

The man ascends a tower of penis switches… to the final room.

Cronos (1993, Guillermo del Toro)

In 1536, the official watchmaker to the viceroy flees the Inquisition and lands in Vera Cruz, Mexico. In 1937 a vault collapses, killing the watchmaker. How he lived for 400+ years becomes the obsession of rich, dying businessman Claudio Brook (Simon of the Desert himself). When his enforcer son Ron Perlman discovers evidence that the watchmaker’s Cronos Device (which turns the user into a kind of vampire/addict: see also The Addiction, released two years later) has turned up in an antiques shop, he tries to acquire it from its accidentally-immortal new owner.

Two dying men, sort of:

Think I watched this in Paul Young’s after-hours screening series at Tech, but I must’ve slept through part of it, since it seemed mostly unfamiliar. A quality flick – suppose it qualifies as horror, but it doesn’t behave quite the way a horror movie is supposed to, has a classic genre sensibility (horror genre with action/revenge/gangster elements) but marches to its own beat. For instance, the old man’s granddaughter Aurora isn’t a spooky ghost child nor a victim, but a witness/participant, a representative of the spectator with more personality than is usually allowed.

Perlman, before City of Lost Children:

Federico Lupi, also in The Devil’s Backbone, is antique dealer Jesus Gris, who has a run-in with Ron Perlman after finding and using the device. Perlman arranges a car crash and attends the cremation of Gris’s coffin – but Gris has escaped from it just in time. After getting himself together he sneaks into the businessman’s office seeking answers about his condition (with Aurora accidentally in tow, a glowstick between her teeth). The businessman is killed, and a rooftop fight between Gris and Perlman leaves them both dead-ish, but Gris is revived by the device, which he then smashes, realizing he’s being tempted to drink Aurora’s blood. He goes home and presumably starves to death in bed surrounded by his family, a strangely beautiful portrayal of a moral vampire.

Buy from Amazon:
Cronos (Criterion Blu-ray)

Santa Sangre (1989, Alejandro Jodorowsky)

This was pretty incredible. Nude man in asylum thinks he’s a monkey. Flashback to when he was a young boy in a false mustache in the circus, watching a tattooed hottie force a deaf-mute girl to walk a burning tightrope. The boy’s mom is chief priestess at the santa sangre temple, which is torn down after being disavowed by the church, claiming the armless woman they worship is not a saint. Later she catches her awful drunken husband with the tattooed lady, and he cuts off her arms then kills himself, and the young mime tightrope walker is driven away from the traumatized boy.

Then after that first 45 minutes, the unthinkable happens: the movie got boring. Later I changed my mind about this, figure it just changed mood and speed and I wasn’t able to follow along, because retracing the story through the million screenshots I took, it sure doesn’t look boring. Anyway, now the boy and his armless mom have a stage act where he hides behind her, being her arms, imagining himself invisible. A bunch of people, including the tattooed woman and a cross-dressing wrestler, get brutally murdered – mother commanding son to kill with his/her hands. He hooks up with his midget best friend from the circus, who may have never existed. Only when he finds the mime girl does he stand up to his mother (and stab her to death), then he and the girl walk outside to start a new life together. No just kidding – they walk outside to find themselves surrounded by police.

Too old to play the young lead himself, Alejandro has his son Axel play the lead, with younger son Adan as young Axel, Blanca Guerra (also in Walker) as his mother and Guy “Dean’s brother” Stockwell as his father. It’s possibly the most coherent Jodorowsky movie I’ve seen, a true horror bursting with ideas and excellently filmed. I hope all the dead or dying animals were just special-effects this time.

D. Lim (who also makes a howler mistake, calling La Cravate a lost film years after it was rediscovered and issued on DVD):

Psycho is hardly the only cinematic influence on Santa Sangre. The circus grotesquerie suggests Fellini, though Tod Browning’s big-top movies Freaks and The Unknown are perhaps even more relevant. James Whale’s The Invisible Man is glimpsed on the television at one point. Also apparent is the lurid imprint of the film’s producer and co-writer Claudio Argento, brother of schlock-horror maestro Dario. But for all its sundry inspirations, Santa Sangre never seems derivative. Jodorowsky’s anything-goes alchemy has a cumulative power, as does the documentary energy of his location photography. It’s a movie bursting with life — interrupted frequently by processions and pageants, shot in actual slums and red-light districts.

You can’t tell from the dim screenshot that this is a white bird rising from an open grave:

Under The Volcano (1984, John Huston)

Wanted to check out some more late Huston before the upcoming Emory screening of The Dead, since I don’t believe Wise Blood is typical of his films. But now, having seen these two plus The Maltese Falcon and nothing in between, I still have no idea what is typical of his films. It’s got that familiar 1970’s grime all over it, so either Huston was late in adapting to 80’s-style cinema or, more likely, Mexico was still in the 70’s.

“Some things you can’t apologize for.”

“Hell is my natural habitat.”

Full of fun quotes, mostly spoken by literate drunk Albert Finney, who gave up sobriety when his wife left a year prior. Finney (a few years before Miller’s Crossing) is tended by his brother Hugh (Anthony Andrews, lately of The King’s Speech), and all is depressingly normal until the now-ex-wife (Jacqueline Bisset, the mother in The Ceremony) shows up unexpectedly. Finney goes off the deep end with the drinking and erratic behavior, ending up shot to death in a hostile bar/whorehouse, scaring a horse into trampling to death his wife in front of Hugh, with whom she’d been having an affair before she originally left Mexico. It’s a great ending to a movie which overall didn’t strike me as hard as it seems to strike everyone else.

Finney and Bisset:

Andrews spontaneously goes bullfighting:

Didn’t watch the many DVD extras so I still know nothing about author Malcolm Lowry. Alex North brings his heavy hand to the proceedings, not offending except once during a comedy scene when he got overexcited. Shot with Mexican D.P. Gabriel Figueroa, who worked on at least four of Bunuel’s best films.

C. Viviani makes connections to The Dead:

It was with The Man Who Would Be King (1975), a project that he had been thinking about since the 1950s—based on a Rudyard Kipling story—that Huston made his return to literary adaptation. After the success of that bold “action-adventure” (in which both the action and the adventure are more within the characters than on the screen), Huston began favoring fictional works that were problematic, in terms of translating them to screen, because of the importance given to internal monologue or their absence of action. In less than ten years Huston would adapt three stories considered to be “unadapt-able”: Wise Blood, by Flannery O’Connor, Under the Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry, and The Dead, by James Joyce. In each case the adaptation rose to the challenge by deliberately ignoring false problems and by choosing to render the spirit rather than the letter of the original. It was not a matter of filming everything but of filming only what Huston liked, which is, in fact, a constant throughout his work. The culmination of this approach, The Dead (1987), is a film that is both respectful and free, and it became a kind of legacy work, in which Huston does not so much film Joyce’s story as use it as a pretext for offering his daughter Anjelica and his son Tony the gift of his artistic heritage.

Shorts from the last few months

The Wrong Trousers (1993, Nick Park)
Endlessly amusing, and full of curious references to unknown kinds of cheese. The baddie is a jailbroken diamond-snatching chicken with a rubber-glove rooster hat and some electrical skills. Some serious dejected Gromit sadness when the tenant chicken takes his place and he leaves home… why must funny cartoons also make me sad?


Dizzy Dishes (1930, Dave Fleischer)
A Bluto-type orders roast duck, but our blandly Bosko-like hero dances around the kitchen instead of preparing the meal professionally. He makes a half-hearted attempt to serve the duck (shaved – not roasted) when he’s distracted yet again by a dog-eared proto-Betty Boop, leaving Bluto so hungry that he eats the dishes and table (see also: Jan Svankmajer’s Food). Finally Bosko, a true villain, assaults the poor customer and leaves with the dancing girl.


Direction of an Actor by Jean Renoir (1968, Gisele Braunberger)
What to do when your father is a famed film producer? Hire Jean Renoir to give you acting lessons. Gisele is told to read lines to Renoir completely flat with no hint of affectation, and he stops her many times if he detects even a hint of predetermined acting style, saying that first she must read the lines bringing nothing to the table, and then the character’s voice will come from the lines. Sounds like good advice. I watched this short doc thinking it was connected to the ones Rivette made with similar titles, but I guess not. Shot by Edmond Richard (Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoise, Welles’ The Trial) – can’t see how exactly it counts as a film by Giselle, but I guess it was her idea.


The next four are from Revolución (2010), a Mexican omnibus film that I didn’t finish watching when it was briefly available online.

La Bienvenida (Fernando Eimbcke)
Armancio the tuba player sacrifices all his family time practicing for the big welcome song, then the guest of honor never shows. All the other orchestra members go home but the tuba stays and plays his rehearsed part solo for nobody. Non-moving camera, low lighting, black and white. It must be a comedy, since tubas indicate comedy, but why am I not laughing? True, the final shot was nice.


Beautiful and Beloved (Patricia Riggen)
A dying man’s wish to his U.S.-born daughter is that he be buried in Mexico, where she’s never been. There’s talk of selling her grandfather’s pistol from the Mexican Revolution for funeral expenses, but instead she gets a deal by sleeping with some sleazy guy, which I believe is seen as a victory for the revolution.


Lucio (Gael Garcia Bernal)
Lucio’s weird cousin comes to visit, refuses to participate in religious rituals and removes the christ-on-a-cross from the bedroom wall saying he doesn’t believe in images. Lucio has some sort of epiphany from all this, as seen by his running to the top of a mountain and gazing at the horizon.


The Hanging Priest (Amat Escakanate)
A couple of kids (who say they’re engaged to be married even though they’re ten – is that a Mexican thing?) come across a priest in the desert. They share their water, walk for a while, and end up at a McDonald’s.